Bord Pleanála debacle ‘could have been avoided’ if notice of review had been followed, says ex-member
A former member of An Bord Pleanála (ABP) said the current “difficulties” could have been avoided if the recommendations of a 2016 review of the organization chaired by Gregory Jones, QC, had been adopted.
ichael leahy said it was “very unfortunate” they didn’t, as they “would undoubtedly have streamlined the operation of the board, brought it closer to the public and helped it to move towards a more open and responsible corporate culture”.
The current review “may not have been necessary,” he said, “and some of the current difficulties could have been avoided.”
Mr Leahy, who is chairman of the Irish Freedom Party – a minority party which is calling for Ireland’s exit from the EU – is the first former member of the planning appeal authority to comment publicly on the ‘ABP since the allegations of inappropriate behavior within the authority.
A member of the board between 2012 and 2017, Mr Leahy said he was commenting in his capacity as an architect and planner who submitted a submission for the organization’s 2016 review. ABP members are prohibited from commenting on board functions.
He welcomed the organizational overhaul announced by Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, which included an immediate end to the practice of allowing two council members to decide planning decisions, rather than three , after it emerged that two council members, including former presiding deputy Paul Hyde, made planning decisions on telecommunications masts.
Mr Hyde resigned last month after three months of controversy over alleged conflicts of interest.
Mr Leahy said the decision to dispense with two-person panels was “welcome”, if overdue. The option to use two-person advice “should have been used very rarely and only for very minor types of development”, he said.
“In any three-person council situation, if one council member is unhappy with the decision of his two colleagues, he has the option of bringing the matter to a meeting of the full council to ensure that a controversial or difficult decision gets a full hearing and proper venting.In the normal way of things, such an important form of checks and balances cannot work in a two-person board format.
Oral hearings, once an important part of public participation in the planning process, “have now become rare”, he said.
A return to oral hearings, recommended in the 2016 review, “would serve the very important function of bringing the planning system back to the people and making the operation of the system much more transparent”.
The review also recommended that extensive map databases of past planning decisions be made available to the public. ‘Such a simple measure would greatly improve the quality of planning practice and inform practitioners as well as local authorities about where the council is likely to stand in relation to specific developments,’ he said.
Mr. Leahy defended aspects of the ABP’s nomination method – also to be reviewed – in which the community and other organizations are invited to nominate members.
Mr Leahy was nominated by the Chambers of Commerce and the Irish Rural Dwellers Association, the latter being the same organization that nominated Mr Hyde.